At 17-years-old, I had no idea if I’d ever encountered another gay person. I probably had, but I lived during times when being out and gay could put your life in danger.
I had my suspicions about who I thought was gay, such as the bus driver who lived on the next street. Even though his bus wasn’t going in the direction I wanted, I’d ride around on it so I could see him and hoped he’d notice me.
There was one way I thought would guarantee me meeting gay people, but it meant breaking the law – a law I thought was stupid. What was wrong with a 17-year-old lad answering an advert in Gay News?
South Wales area – a genuine, nice guy in his early 40s, looking to meet other guys who haven’t come out yet. Maybe we could help each other? Write to Richard at Box 223D, Gay News, London…
Richard remained on my mind for a few weeks after reading the advert. Like me, he hadn’t ‘come out’ as gay. But unlike me, he was over the age of consent, 21, when sleeping with someone of the same sex was not illegal.
The constant bragging about which girls he had slept with from Michael, my best friend, eventually persuaded me to put pen to paper and respond to Richard’s advert. While Michael could sleep with as many girls as he wanted, I thought it unfair that it was illegal for me to meet and sleep with other guys.
I can’t remember what I said in my letter to Richard, but I lied about my age. I had to; otherwise, he may not respond. Or he could have reported me to the police. Fortunately, his advert did not mention sending a photo, so I didn’t have to prove I was 21.
It took me a week to post my reply. Every time I approached the postbox at the bottom of the street, police sirens would sound in my head.
The thought of Richard having my home address and turning up unannounced also terrified me. But the more Michael bragged about who he had slept with and questioned why I was still a virgin, the more courage I got. Finally, I posted the letter after convincing myself that I’d run away to London if Richard turned up. I’d be safe with so many other gay people living there.
A month later, not only had I not had a reply from Richard, but I’d also placed an advert in the lonelyhearts column of Gay News.
21-year-old gay guy looking to make new friends and meet his first boyfriend. Currently living in South Wales, but looking to live and work in London. Age/looks unimportant, but please send a photo. Write to Rob at Box D867, Gay News, London…
Two weeks after my advert appeared, I came home from work to find my mother holding an envelope.
“It’s for you. Whose handwriting is this? I don’t recognise it,” she examined.
Terrified that she was about to tear the letter open, I snatched it off her and ran upstairs, shouting that I’d got a new pen-pal. Fortunately, my mother knew that I had pen-pals and liked to write letters, although she had failed to notice that the stamp on the envelope was British, not foreign.
I was trembling at the thought that my mother could have forced me to come out of the closet had she opened the letter. I’d convinced myself that if the family found out I was gay, I’d be homeless.
Studying the envelope closely, I was too scared to open it and placed it in the same place I’d hid my copies of Gay News – under the carpet under my bed.
Two weeks later, as I climbed into the passenger seat of a car, I was greeted with the words ‘Hi, I’m Richard. I’m a little nervous, but it’s finally good to meet you, Hugh.”
I was meeting who I thought was the first gay person in my life.
But the following day, I would be threatened again with coming out of the closet.
“Who’s car did I see you getting into yesterday?” asked Michael.
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What’s stopping you from writing and publishing your first or next book?
What was it that helped you write and publish your first book?
You may be surprised by what it was that helped my guest Stephen Havard write and publish his first book. I’d never have guessed. But not only did it help Stephen write and publish his book, it also helped him with mental health problems he was encountering at the time.
A very warm welcome on Hugh’s Views And News to Stephen.
It’s January 2011, and I was sitting at my desk at work feeling depressed. It had only just gone 4.30, and it was already starting to get dark, the grey drizzly day now being consumed by blackness. The advent of the shortest day last month hadn’t taken effect yet, and my mood was as dark as the picture outside the office window.
Christmas had been great; time with the family and a period away from the laptop was just what I needed. Unfortunately, this had only been a brief respite, and here I was once again sitting before a computer in a job I hated more and more by the day.
I was stuck in the rat race with no way out, and it was draining the life out of me more and more. I needed something to spark me into life; the only question was what, though?
My job was the main issue, but the option to leave wasn’t possible right then. I had a young family to support and couldn’t just jump ship. I’d have to persevere with it for the time being and find another outlet to lighten my mood.
That outlet came unexpectedly to me a few weeks later as I browsed the BBC website and noticed that the quiz show ‘Pointless‘ was looking for contestants.
I’d loved quizzes from an early age and had even auditioned for another quiz show, 15-to-1, without success after leaving university in 1997. Over the intervening years, my passion for quizzing had remained, regularly going to pub quizzes and still avidly watching every quiz show on the TV. I had never applied for another quiz show, though.
Was this a sign?
Pointless was one of my favourite quiz shows and something that played into my relatively obscure knowledge. This contestant call which was now staring back at me was surely telling me to apply and once again try and get onto a TV quiz show.
I spoke to my wife, who was seated beside me and urged me to apply and follow my dream. She knew how much I hated my job, how it affected my mental health and made me quite hard to live with at times. She wanted me to be happy and believed that the simple act of applying for this quiz show would help in that regard.
So that very moment I applied, buoyed by the enthusiasm of my wife, I spent hours perfecting our application in the hope that what I was writing would be what the show wanted. I say ‘our application’ as my wife had agreed to be my partner on the show as well.
Now I’m not the most patient of people, and as the weeks passed without any news, I thought the worst. Had my attempt at TV stardom fallen at the first hurdle? The very thought that it probably had depressed me even further.
Over a month later, I was again sitting at my desk and facing a now-familiar dilemma. What was I going to do to get out of the malaise my life was currently in?
While I sat there debating the options, my phone started to ring. A quick glance at the screen told me it was from a private number, another bloody call centre, I guessed as I declined the call.
Less than a minute later, I heard the familiar beep that indicated a voicemail had been left. Strange, I thought as I picked up the phone and dialled my answerphone, those call centres don’t usually leave voice messages. And as I listened, my heart began to beat more quickly. The voice at the end of the line was from a casting researcher at Pointless who wanted me to ring them back!
And to cut a long story short, my wife and I seemed to impress them on that phone call, Cathy being rung moments after me.
Our successful telephone audition led us to a hotel in Cardiff a week later for a face-to-face audition.
Now, this was the scary bit. Not only did we have to impress the researchers there, but we also had to do it in front of a room of 30 other hopeful contestants.
I’m quiet by nature but knew I had to shine here and create a persona that the TV execs wanted on their show. Having my wife there helped me as she is naturally more outgoing and chattier than me. I treated that day as a job interview, I knew I had to impress, and that’s precisely what we did as a couple of months later we were at the BBC Television Centre in London recording our episode of Pointless.
It was a day I’d never forget as we came away with a Pointless trophy and the jackpot!
So how does appearing on a daytime quiz show lead to me writing my first novel, I hear you ask.
Well, since that first quiz show appearance in 2011, I’ve auditioned and appeared in many more shows with various degrees of success. Quizzing has become a great passion, and I love to appear on TV to show off my knowledge and test myself against other great quizzers.
I’m also convinced that appearing on them vastly improved my confidence and helped with my mental health.
Writing a book had also been something I’d always wanted to do, but like most things, that passion had been put on the backburner with work and family life taking precedence.
Then in March 2020, lockdown happened, and my life, along with the rest of the country, changed utterly. I was ‘working from home’ permanently, and my daily commute of over 2 hours had suddenly disappeared.
Despite the awful circumstances of the pandemic and lockdown, I sensed this was an opportunity to follow that dream of writing a novel.
The only question was what to write about?
This had been a conundrum for so long and another reason why I hadn’t yet typed any words. Yet during those first few weeks of lockdown, the idea of my debut novel locked into place, and it was an idea that was staring me in the face all along if I’m being honest now. Why not write about my other great passion, that of quizzing!
And that’s what I did over the next seven months as ‘The Duel’ took shape. It incorporated the world of quizzing, which I knew well and required very little research with a murder mystery.
‘The Duel’ was self-published in November 2020 and has been well received by readers that have bought it. It’s a story I’m happy to have told at last, and I hope it may lead to a full-time writing career eventually (fingers crossed).
About Stephen Havard
Stephen Havard lives in Swansea, South Wales, with his wife and two children, he also has 2 stepchildren.
Currently working in the IT industry, he enjoys quizzing and watching Swansea City football club in his spare time.
His quizzing exploits have resulted in a few TV appearances, with varying degrees of success!
Ashley White is desperate. An ill-advised investment in cryptocurrency has left him in financial meltdown, with the bank threatening to repossess his home and a wife that knows nothing about the mess he is in.
A new quiz show called ‘The Duel’ is about to hit the TV screens, offering a mouth-watering 2 million pounds to the winner. The show is to be hosted by Patrick Reed; the scandal-hit presenter who hopes it will revive his flagging career.
Ashley hopes the show can be his way out of his financial problems and does all that is necessary to appear, even when those things have murderous intent.
For many days, my heart had pounded, and I found myself in danger of being found out.
My mother couldn’t understand why I’d been getting up so early every morning, especially on a Saturday.
I can’t sleep, I told her.
Whereas what I’d been waiting for so early every morning was the postman.
But that Saturday morning was a saviour for me because the postman sometimes arrived after I’d gone to work.
As the mail fell through the letterbox, it was only the large, brown envelope I snatched and took upstairs to my bedroom.
My hands shook as I quietly opened the envelope, thinking that any sound I made would wake up the entire household. As I took out the contents, the newspaper’s title, ‘Gay News’, in large bold letters, pierced my eyes.
Barely able to open the pages, because my hands were still shaking, my eyes darted all over the pages taking in a ‘life’ I knew I belonged to, but of which I’d had little experience. It was unlike any newspaper I’d ever read. It was like entering a new yet, familiar world.
Some 45-minutes later, I’d read just over three-quarters. While my fingers and hands showed evidence of newspaper print, I picked up the large brown envelope and gazed at the postmark – London.
Immediately thinking that London was the place where all gay people lived, I started making plans in my head of a trip. I’d never been, yet I somehow knew London would be the destination where I would work and live one day.
Turning my attention to the newspaper again, I scanned one of the back pages I’d not read. These were the kinds of adverts I remember reading.
For sale – Leather jacket and Muir cap, hardly worn, VG condition – £35 ONO (or nearest offer). Contact Jack at Box 625S, Gay News, London…
For rent – Lovely cosy room, in a large house with three other guys. NW10 area, only a few minutes to underground and good bus service. £15 a week, plus contributions towards bills. Contact Mike at Box 489A, Gay News, London…
Wanted – models for top-earning film studios. Must be good looking and over 21. Send full details of yourself and a photo to Box907W, Gay News, London…
Many adverts like those above covered the page, but others took my interest more.
Lonely, 33, good-looking, short hair, moustache, 5ft 9′, good sense of humour, looking for a younger boyfriend to go out with and have fun with. 21-30 only, no older guys, sorry. Will only reply to letters that include a photograph. Contact Clive at Box D212, Gay News, London…
28, just out of a relationship, short, blond hair, cleanshaven, fit, told good looking, non-smoker, Earl’s Court, London, area, looking for a new boyfriend. Age (21 – 80) and looks unimportant. Please include a photo with your reply. Contact Adam at Box D213, Gay News, London…
Bear, 55, looking for a younger (21+) cub to cuddle and have fun with. Must have facial hair and a hairy chest. Bristol area, but willing to travel for the right cub. Your photo gets mine. Contact Steve at Box D214, Gay News, London…
It wouldn’t be long before I discovered what a bear and cub were in the gay world. It also would not be long before I found that not everything in lonely hearts adverts was what I thought it was.
There were many adverts, and even though I was only 17, I started thinking seriously about placing one. It would be risky, but all I wanted to do was make some gay friends.
I noticed another advert before folding the paper and placing it back in the envelope.
South Wales area – genuine, nice guy in his early 40s, looking to meet other guys who haven’t come out yet. Maybe we could help each other? Write to Richard at Box 223D, Gay News, London…
Lifting a corner of carpet under my bed and placing the large, brown envelope and its contents under it, Richard remained on my mind for the rest of the weekend.
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As a gay man, you may be surprised to hear that one of the biggest hurdles I faced was going into a gay bar for the first time.
At 17-years-old, I was in awe of my straight mates. They’d been wandering into bars and nightclubs for the last year with the only threat of getting asked for age identification.
At 17-years-old, my straight mates were not only getting drunk most Friday and Saturday nights but were boasting about sleeping around with members of the opposite sex without any worry. Whether they’d slept with many of those they mentioned was open to debate.
At 17-years-old, it was against the law for me to sleep with a person of the same sex. If I boasted about it, I could get myself into trouble. The law stated that, for my safety, sex remained on hold until I reached 21.
Of course, I overlooked that particular part of the law. Like any red-blooded male at 17, my hormones made my brain think of little else but wanting to (putting it mildly) get laid.
By the time I reached my 19th birthday, I already had what I had considered a boyfriend. He was over the age of 21 and thought I was too.
On one particular, wet Saturday evening, I found myself sitting in my boyfriend’s car. Holding hands with him, we listened to the patter of the rain on the roof as we watched the raindrops splatter on the windscreen. For weeks, we’d both built up the courage to go to a gay bar for the first time.
The bar was out of town and miles from where we lived. However, neither of us wanted to get out of the car and walk up the steps to the bar. Instead, we both sat there trying our best to peer through the spattering of rain, trying to make out the figures going into the bar.
“It’s nice and warm in here,” I said.
“Yeah, too wet to go outside,” responded my boyfriend.
For the next half an hour, we made an excuse after an excuse as to why we should stay in the car. Even though curiosity ran through our minds of what was on the other side of the doors to the gay bar, our bodies remained fixed to seats while we continued peering at figures entering and exiting the bar.
“What if we bump into somebody in there who recognises us?” asked my boyfriend. “If there’s somebody in there from work, I could end up getting beaten up or sacked.”
Not only did those words cut me in half, but I began to worry that if the police raided the bar, my boyfriend and I would be in serious trouble because of my age.
Although at 19-years-old, it wasn’t against the law for me to go into a bar, I questioned if it was against the law for me to hold hands with another man in a public place.
Terrified of the consequences of entering a world where people would have welcomed and accepted us for who we were, we drove off and went home. Hiding who we were and how we lived our lives seemed a much safer option.
It would be months later when I talked about that night again.
“If somebody you worked with had been in that bar, wouldn’t they have been as terrified as we were at being spotted?” I asked.
“I never thought of that,” came the reply. “But it’s still a risk, isn’t it?”
Six years later, as I made my way on a coach to a new life, I left behind a boyfriend who had been secretly sleeping with another man he worked with.
Have you ever been terrified to do something or go somewhere for the first time? Please share the details in the comments sectionor, even better, contact me about submitting your story as a guest post.
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I’m delighted to welcome Judith Barrow to my blog today, who shares a true story about the perils of holiday letting an apartment.
Having read some of Judith’s other stories of holiday letting, there’s always a humorous side to them which I believe would not only make a fanatics book, but a television comedy show.
Will Judith’s story have you laughing as much as I did when I read it?
For many years we summer let the apartment which is attached to our house.
We had many visitors from other countries staying in our apartment and shared great times with them.
Couples from the USA, Australia enjoyed barbeques on the lawn; long boozy evenings of wine and slightly burned kebabs and steaks, of tall tales and laughter.
Visits to restaurants with people from France and Italy. Long walks and talks on the coastal paths with a couple from New Zealand that we’d met from there on holiday in Christchurch, followed by drinks in local pubs.
We had a German man stay with us for three weeks who’d come to participate in the Iron Man Wales event. He’d worked hard for twelve months, he told us and had to acclimatise himself to the course. Three days before the event, he caught a chest infection and had to drop out. Despite his anti-biotics, he still needed to join Husband in a double whisky that night.
Oh dear, I’m sensing a common theme here.
This is the story of our last visitor for the season one year.
He was a single man. We’ve had people come on holiday alone many times over the years and thought nothing of it. When he arrived, we quickly realised he could only speak a little English, and we couldn’t speak his language at all.
He hadn’t been in the apartment before he came to the door brandishing an empty bottle of washing up liquid.
“Oh, sorry,” I said, “I thought there was plenty in it.”
An hour later, washing powder was asked for by a demonstration of vigorous scrubbing at a pair of underpants.
“There’s a box of it under the sink.”
Sunday brought him to the door twice. First, with the sugar bowl.
Then the salt cellar.
“I thought I’d filled it—”
‘Used it’ quickly became the watchword whenever we supplied tea bags, vinegar or handing over shoe polish.
Monday, he arrived with an empty tube of glue.
“Sorry, we don’t supply glue.”
He stands, smiling, waggling the tube. “Used it.”
Husband went into his Man Drawer and produced a tube of Super Glue. Scowling. We never found out what the man wanted it for, even though Husband examined everything he could that would need to be stuck the following weekend.
Each day, at least once, the man came to the door to ask for something by waving the empty bottle, carton, container or label at us. Unlike most holidaymakers, he didn’t knock on the back door but always came round to ring the doorbell at the front. In the end, Husband and I would peer through the hall window.
“It’s Mr Used It,” one of us would say. “It’s your turn to go.” Pushing at one another. “You see what he wants this time.”
On Wednesday, he arrived with a cardboard roll.
“There are six more toilet rolls in the bathroom cabinet to the right of the hand basin,” I offered helpfully.
Seven rolls of toilet paper usually last a couple the whole week. I handed over four more.
“What’s happening in there,” Husband grumbled, “do-it-yourself colonic irrigation?”
On Friday, Husband produced a list. “We should charge for this lot,” he declared. “See?”
It read like a shopping list: milk/salt/sugar/vinegar/butter/tea bags/ coffee/soap/soap powder/toilet paper/shampoo/glue/shoe polish.
“Really?” I said, even though I knew the chap had been a pest. “You’ve been keeping tabs on our guest?”
“Too true.” The husband was indignant. “We could even charge him for overuse of the battery in the doorbell.”
“Except that it’s connected to the electricity.”
“Even worse!” Husband grumped off to his shed.
Saturday morning came, and the doorbell rang. Smiling, the man put his suitcase down onto the ground and, vigorously, shook hands with both of us. He waved towards the apartment.
“Used it,” he said. “Very nice.”
About Judith Barrow
Judith Barrow is originally from Saddleworth, a group of villages on the edge of the Pennines, in the UK. She now lives with her husband and family in Pembrokeshire, Wales, where she has lived for over forty years.
Judith has an MA in Creative Writing with the University of Wales Trinity St David’s College, Carmarthen. She also has BA (Hons) in Literature with the Open University, a Diploma in Drama from Swansea University.
She is a Creative Writing tutor for Pembrokeshire County Council and holds private one to one workshops on all genres.
She has written all her life and has had short stories, poems, plays, reviews and articles published throughout the British Isles. She only started to seriously write novels after having breast cancer twenty years ago.
When not writing or teaching, she enjoys doing research for her writing, walking the Pembrokeshire coastline and reading and reviewing books.
1914 – and everything changes for Jessie on a day trip to Blackpool. She realises her true feelings for her childhood friend, Arthur. Then just as they are travelling home from this rare treat, war is declared.
Arthur lies about his age to join his Pals’ Regiment. Jessie’s widowed mother is so frightened of the future, she agrees to marry the vicious Amos Morgan, making Jessie’s home an unsafe place for her.
Before he leaves, Arthur and Jessie admit their feelings and promise to wait for each other. Arthur gives Jessie a heart-shaped stone to remember him. But with Arthur far away, their love leaves Jessie with a secret that will see her thrown from her home and terribly abused when she can hide the truth no longer. Faced with a desperate choice between love and safety, Jessie must fight for survival, whatever the cost.
Click on the book cover to buy The Heart Stone
More Books from Judith
Click on the book covers to buy Judith’s books.
My thanks to Judith for writing this guest post.
If you have any questions or comments for Judith, please leave them in the comments section. She’d be delighted to hear from you.
Do you have a true story you’d like to share on my blog? Contact me via the ‘Contact Hugh’ button on the menubar.
I’m delighted to welcome Sally Cronin to my blog today, sharing a true story that had me laughing all day after I read it. It bought back many happy memories of a similar nature for me, especially some of the parts I played in school plays and amateur dramatics.
Many of you will know Sally from her successful blog where she is constantly helping to promote the works of bloggers, authors and writers alike.
Will Sally’s story have you as staged-struck and laughing in the aisles as I was after reading it?
My two sisters who were ten and eleven years older than I was, both trained as secretaries, which led to them having some interesting and high level jobs over the years.
However, I decided at an early age that I wanted to be a singer and actress! The desire to follow this career path was my mother’s fault really. Apart from the fact that she had a bit of a flair for the dramatic, she manipulated me into being her co-conspirator every Saturday afternoon.
My father loved football, and after he had cooked us one of his Spaghetti Bolognese lunches, followed by steamed treacle duff as he called them, we would retire to the lounge where our television took pride of place. I would have been about seven or eight at the time and my mother would coerce me into facilitating her viewing pleasure; the Saturday afternoon musical on BBC2.
Of course this conflicted with the afternoon football offering by Grandstand on BBC1. Fortunately my father had a weakness. Stoked up with carbohydrates and sugars from lunch, within 10 minutes of the match starting, he would be stretched out in his recliner, snoring.
In the good old days it was necessary to get up and down to switch channels, and this is where I came in.
As soon as my father began snoring, my mother would nudge me, and I would creep across the carpet to turn the channel over to BBC2 and the Saturday musical. Things did get a little hectic at times if there was a temporary change to my father’s breathing. At a shove from my mother, I would leap up from the sofa, dash across the room and switch channels back to the football. My father would watch blearily for about five minutes then resume his afternoon nap.
This would happen several times during the course of the movie, and as the final credits scrolled up the screen, I would turn the channel back over to BBC 1. My father would wake up to enjoy the cup of tea my mother had made, convinced he had watched 90 minutes of fancy footwork, but not the kind we had been watching.
This Saturday afternoon ritual fuelled my love of dancing and singing. My heart and soul burned to be the lead, dancing and singing my way through the performances like Ginger Rogers, Esther Williams (yes I would have done synchronised swimming if called for) Deborah Kerr, Mitzi Gaynor etc.
I had seen South Pacific at age ten and I would have even taken the role of Bloody Mary given half the chance. I knew all the lyrics from all the popular musicals of the day and wept buckets as John Kerr lip synched to “Younger than Springtime”; and I could perform all the songs from the Sound of Music.
Over the next few years I was lucky enough to be cast in a number of school plays. Being tall for my age, it usually involved me standing completely still for thirty minutes in the guise of a tree or some other inanimate object.
I did attempt to achieve some form of recognition for my talents, which included dressing in Swiss costume and dragging one of my friends around to old people’s homes to entertain the residents with the songs from The Sound of Music (they were very appreciative, let me tell you!).
This did not impress my parents, who were adamant that when I left school, I must train as a secretary, as drama was not a profession to be relied on.
I left school in September 1969 at age 16 and enrolled in technical college for a year’s secretarial course. Over the course of the next twelve months, I became very proficient in shorthand and typing, but it was the extra classes we took in English that I enjoyed the most.
Our teacher also taught drama, and had trained more than a few successful actors and actresses over the years. To my delight, she was casting for that year’s drama production which was the operetta “Passion Flower”, based on the story of Carmen, but adapted for the amateur stage.
Without informing my parents I auditioned. I was rather expecting to be cast as part of the scenery again, but you can imagine my absolute thrill when our producer chose me to play Micaela – Carmen’s rival for the matador’s affections. Something that I kept from my parents, and they assumed I would be part of the chorus as usual.
Police cadets did their initial training at the college, and several of these were roped in to play the soldiers. Our producer recruited outside talent from her drama group to play the leads including an Australian dentist in his mid-thirties who took on the role of the matador, Escamillo, and a wonderful young singer called Julie took the part of Carmen.
The performances ran for three nights, and by the final evening I had almost conquered my nerves, despite the fact there were two very important people in the audience. I had persuaded my parents to come on the last night, with the expectation that it was likely to be the most flawless performance of the three.
I was desperately hoping that if they saw how passionate I was about acting (and my talent); they might relent in their objections to me attending drama school.
I can still remember standing in the wings that night, knees quaking as I prepared for the cat fight with Carmen, followed by being manhandled by the soldiers as they pulled us apart enthusiastically.
All was going very well until we reached the final scene when Escamillo threw a rose onto poor dead Carmen’s body, having been stabbed by a former lover, and then pulled me into his arms for a passionate kiss!
Unbeknownst to the rest of the cast, our lead actor had been celebrating the end to the run by consuming a number of cans of beer hidden in the wings. This certainly gave his performance some extra gusto which our producer put down to exuberance. As I swanned across the stage and into his arms for the expected stage kiss, he bent me over backwards and gave me a hearty smacker, before picking me up and rushing off stage.
Cue a very loud gasp from the cast clustered around poor Carmen’s corpse and from the front row where my mother and father were seated with other VIP guests. I can only assume they had already been taken aback by my starring role as a floozy, in an off the shoulder blouse, big earrings and a penchant for men in uniform.
I also had an inkling that these last few minutes had not gone down well. My erstwhile suitor and I joined the cast and clasped hands, bowing in appreciation of the applause. All I could focus on was my father, arms crossed with a very frosty look on his face.
My mother told me later that my father had turned to her and shouted over the applause, ‘Who is that man and what was he up to with our daughter?” At this point, a woman who was sat next to my mother announced furiously ‘That would be my husband.”
As you can imagine, this fiasco did not further my ambitions to be allowed to attend drama school. Two weeks later, when I had graduated with my secretarial diploma, the evening paper’s employment section was strategically placed next to my beans on toast for supper. Probably for the best, as I have enjoyed a wonderful variety of jobs across a number of industries including broadcasting.
However, my love of musicals has never diminished, and who knows… maybe one day!
About Sally Cronin
After a career in customer facing roles in the hospitality, retail, advertising and telecommunications industry, Sally wrote and published her first book in 1999 called Size Matters, about her weight loss journey, losing 150lbs in 18 months. This was followed by 13 further fiction and non-fiction books, including a number of short story collections.
Sally’s aim was to create a watering hole on her blog to provide a wide number of topics to chat about…..This year in September 2021, Smorgasbord in its current format, celebrated its 8th anniversary.
As important as her own promotion is, Sally believes it’s important to support others within our community. She offers a number of FREE promotional opportunities on her blog, linked to social media.
Having lived a nomadic existence most of her life, Sally is now settled on the coast of Wexford in Southern Ireland with her husband of 40 years, enjoying the odd sunny day and the rain that puts the Emerald in the Isles.
Sally’sLatest Book – Life is Like a Bowl of Cherries: Sometimes Bitter, Sometimes Sweet
Life is Like a Bowl of Cherries: Sometimes Bitter, Sometimes Sweet is a collection of short stories with scattered poetry, reflecting the complexities of life, love and loss.
The stories in the collection dip into the lives of men and women who are faced with an ‘event’ that is challenging and in some cases life changing.
Even something as straightforward as grocery shopping online can be frustrating, and a DNA test produces surprise results, the past reaches out to embrace the present, and a gardening assistant is an unlikely grief counsellor. Romance is not always for the faint-hearted and you are never too old for love. Random acts of kindness have far reaching consequences and some people discover they are on a lucky streak. There are those watching over us who wish us well, and those in our lives who wish us harm.
Continuing my series of true stories, I’m delighted to welcome Liesbet Collaert, who shares her story of how life changed the direction she was travelling.
Although Liesbet leads a different life to me (read and follow her blog to find out more) her true story is one I gasped at even though I’ve had similar experiences. It makes me believe in fate even more and why we find ourselves in certain situations for a real purpose.
Will her story bring back memories of a familiar position when you read it? Has fate played a part in your life?
San Francisco. A fascinating city I only know from movies and guidebooks. So close now! I can almost see the Golden Gate Bridge, smell the salty air of the bay, and feel the breeze in my light brown hair. The promise of a new adventure causes my ear-to-ear grin as I hop into our small camper to grab a CD of dEUS, my favorite Belgian band.
After crisscrossing the United States, Western Canada, and Alaska in our truck camper for the last year and a half, my boyfriend Karl, his dog Caesar, and I landed in California. Karl’s friend Nik, a DJ, had invited us to share his studio-apartment in Oakland, as a base to explore SF. Nik also rents out two apartments in his house.
CD in hand, I enter the yard again and stop dead in my tracks. Two gorgeous dogs with fluffy tails had run up to me. I smother them with cuddles and praise.
“Hi, I’m Mark. And these two are Kali, the white one, and Darwin, the grey one.”
I look up from admiring the wagging furballs.
My eyes meet those of a tall, skinny, short-haired, and attractive man in the doorway of apartment #1.
“Hello. I’m Liesbet. My boyfriend and I are staying with Nik for a week to visit San Francisco. Our home on wheels is parked in front of the house.”
“Home on wheels? Why are you living in a camper?”
“It lets us travel around with our own bathroom and kitchen and plenty of storage and provides much more comfort and security than dingy hostels and a backpack,” I tell him with an unfaltering smile and raised voice; telltales of the excitement I always feel when elaborating on my pursuit of freedom.
“I detect an accent. Where are you from?” he asks, after I had described a handful of places I visited while backpacking for almost two years on the other side of the world.
“I’m from Belgium, but I haven’t been back in a while.”
Mark seems entranced, which encourages me to ramble on about my passion. After some time of telling stories and trading questions and answers, he exclaims, “That’s incredible! I need to travel and find myself a Belgian girlfriend!”
I blush. It dawns on me that we’d been chatting for a while.
“Do you know what time it is?” I ask. An hour has passed. I rush to Nik’s place next door.
“Where have you been?” Karl asks.
“Talking to a neighbor, the one with the big dogs. He seems like a nice guy.” I hand my CD to Nik, who is always eager to discover new music.
Our planned week in the Rockridge area of Oakland turns into four, as all of us become friends and Mark unintentionally draws me closer and closer. Karl encourages my contact with the neighbor. “Soon we’ll be out of here and it’s just you and me again,” he says. “Enjoy the company!”
I embrace Mark’s presence until I crave it.
One night, the Hollywood-moment arrives… our first kiss. An arm around my shoulders. A fluttering body. Touching of lips. Mutual desire. He loves me back!
We never allow anything more to happen. Mark is a realist. He knows I am leaving Nik’s place shortly and that I am in a serious relationship.
Our dreadful last evening together eventually arrives. We hug strongly and kiss tenderly.
“I’ll come pick you up wherever you are, whenever you’re ready to leave Karl.” Mark’s parting words sound sweet. Is he serious?
That night, I lie awake, heart racing. By morning, it’s time to pack up the camper and leave.
I exchange glances with Karl. His eyes beam with excitement about continuing our adventures; mine reflect trouble and sadness.
I take the plunge.
“I can’t be with you anymore. My attraction to Mark has grown too strong.” I sound more determined than I feel.
Karl stares at me with intent. “We’re driving to Mexico. We both looked forward to this.”
Did he not notice my enthusiasm to continue our overland journey had diminished these last weeks?
I swallow hard.
Can I really give all this up? Our past explorations on the road? The year and a half before that, where he tried so hard to fit into my Belgian life? How about my American visa that will run out if I don’t leave the country soon?
The consequences of my impulsiveness finally trigger some brain activity.
Karl continues, “I love you. Caesar and I will miss you so much.”
We both cry. Three years together is not nothing. I think about the good times we shared. Karl and his dog – and me, too – had been ecstatic when I showed up at his Maryland apartment, ready to roam North America. That was the summer of 2003. I had thrown a goodbye party at my parents’ house in Belgium and hopped on a plane. Little did I know I was never to return.
I remain quiet. My heart bleeds for him. Karl is a sensitive man who understands me and cares about me. We have the same passion: traveling the world on a budget. Yet,I crave more romance in a relationship…
Am I seriously giving up my travels for a man?
That would be a first. It’s usually the other way around. My gut knows how this predicament will end. My mind has nothing to add.
I face Karl and finally utter, “If I leave with you, I will want to come back here at some point.” It is the only conclusion I can muster.
I have fallen in love with another guy, the “guy next door.”
“If that’s what you want,” Karl replies with a sigh, “then you should just stay.”
In the hours that follow we split the money from our communal account; I gather my belongings; and we discuss a contingency plan for the truck camper. I pet Caesar goodbye and give Karl one last, heartfelt embrace. Then, misty-eyed, I watch them drive away.
I close the door of Mark’s apartment behind me. Unlike other times when Karl and I returned his dogs after walking them with Caesar – today, I don’t leave.
My pile of clothes and gear clutters the corner of the bedroom. I settle on the bed with Kali and Darwin. My tears soak their fur within minutes. Mark has found his Belgian girl without having to travel; she appeared right on his doorstep. He probably thought he’d never see her again. Surprise!
What will he say when he comes home from work?
What if he doesn’t want me here?
As usual, I don’t have a back-up plan.The rest of the afternoon, I cry. I feel bad for Karl.
I’m such a selfish bitch.
The front door opens. The dogs jump up and run towards their human. I stay behind in the bedroom.
“Hi, guys,” Mark greets Kali and Darwin with a sad voice. “I guess they’re gone, huh? You two don’t seem too excited to see me. What’s up?”
I walk into the hallway. My eyes sting.
Mark looks up.
“What the hell are you doing here?” His words crush me. I shuffle towards him. We hug. I don’t want to let go.
“I’m staying with you,” I whisper, as if he doesn’t have any say in this. Mark’s face relaxes into a smile. His grip tightens. I guess that means it’s okay.
Liesbet Collaert’s articles and photos have been published internationally.
Born in Belgium, she has been a nomad since 2003 with no plans to settle anytime soon. Her love of travel, diversity, and animals is reflected in her lifestyle choices of sailing, RVing, and house and pet sitting.
Liesbet calls herself a world citizen and currently lives “on the road” in North America with her husband and rescue dog. Follow her adventures at www.itsirie.com and www.roamingabout.com.
Liesbet’s true story is taken from her new book, Plunge.
Tropical waters turn tumultuous in this travel memoir as a free-spirited woman jumps headfirst into a sailing adventure with a new man and his two dogs.
Join Liesbet as she faces a decision that sends her into a whirlwind of love, loss, and living in the moment. When she swaps life as she knows it for an uncertain future on a sailboat, she succumbs to seasickness and a growing desire to be alone.
Guided by impulsiveness and the joys of an alternative lifestyle, she must navigate personal storms, trouble with US immigration, adverse weather conditions, and doubts about her newfound love.
Does Liesbet find happiness? Will the dogs outlast the man? Or is this just another reality check on a dream to live at sea?
What would you say to me if I told you that I disliked receiving gifts? I’m not talking about all gifts. I’m talking about the ones I consider to be a waste of money because they render as useless.
I think we’ve all had gifts we received for Christmas and birthdays and seen them as a waste of money. But before you start thinking how ungrateful I sound, hear me out, because I’ve had an idea which I hope many of you will join in with me.
Nobody likes wasting money, do they?
No! Especially when they’re on a tight budget.
What saddens me most is witnessing people spending money on unwanted gifts because they feel they have to buy you something. With so many people less fortunate in the world, wouldn’t that money be better spent helping those most in need?
For years, I’ve donated some of the unwanted gifts I’ve received to charity shops. Unfortunately, because of lockdown, some charity shops are no longer able to take donations because they’ve nowhere to store new stock.
So, how do you ask people politely to stop wasting their money on Christmas and birthday gifts you didn’t request?
Have you encountered this situation?
A few months, weeks, days, hours, minutes before your birthday or Christmas, you hear the words ‘What would you like for Christmas/ your birthday?‘ Because I loath replying or hearing the phrase ‘I don’t know,’ I alway have a list ready. However, I still don’t always get the items on my list and sometimes end up with something I’ll never use or which has me scratching my head as to why it was purchased.
I’m lucky. But you may not be as fortunate as me.
I’ve always been one of those people that if they like something, buys it. It hasn’t always been like that. Like many, I’d have to save up to buy some of those items. And as somebody who dislikes being fussed over, buying what I want when I need it works perfectly for me.
However, as I’ve grown older, I find it problematic telling people what I want for Christmas or my birthday.
Allow me, therefore, to reveal the idea at the beginning of this post, which solves my dilemma and will change your next birthday (if you join me in this challenge).
Get writing or asking.
I wrote an email to my family members asking them not to buy me birthday presents. Instead, I asked them to choose a charity and donate the money to them.
Some family members didn’t like this idea, saying I had to have something, while some said they’d instead give me money to donate to a charity of my choice.
But that wasn’t what I was asking them to do!
I kindly asked them to donate the money that they would spend on me to a charity of their choice. That way, I’d feel great about money going to be spent on me, instead going to charity. I hoped it would make them feel great for donating to a charity of their choice. After all, we all feel good when donating to charity, don’t we? I saw it as a win-win situation.
Don’t allow people to knock your idea back.
Although my idea didn’t seem to go down well initially, I did get my way.
My family got together and money earmarked for my birthday presents has been donated to the Llanhilleth Miners’ Institute Covid Response Food Pantry. Here are the details.
So not only will the donations help in setting this new charity up, it will also help with some of the costs to run the programme. That makes me feel so good.
I realise that not everyone will want the money spent on their birthday presents donated. So even if it’s just the money for one present, think of all the good it will do if some of you ask for birthday money to be donated to a charity.
When your next birthday comes around, think about asking at least one person to donate the money they would have spent on you, to a charity of their choice. Just think of all the good you’ll both be doing in helping those less fortunate than you. Not only that, but I guarantee it will make you both feel great too.
How to completely change your birthday.
If you want to completely change your birthday (or Christmas 2021), ask everyone who buys you a birthday and/or Christmas present to donate the money they’d spend on your gifts to a charity of their choice. That’s what I’ll be doing in December 2021.
Will you take up my Birthday challenge? How would you feel if somebody asked you to donate the money you would have spent on a birthday or Christmas gift to a charity? Let me know by leaving me a comment and join the discussion.
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Why do so many of us make New Year’s resolutions? Do they help? Are they a pain? Do they put pressure on us? Do they stress us out? Do they work? Do they give us something to look forward to?
The only resolution I made on New Year’s Day (which worked for me), was the one I made on January 1st 1994. It was the day I told myself to stop adding sugar to tea and coffee. I’m still ‘sugar-total’ when it comes to drinking tea and coffee. Success!
If you’ve made some New Year’s resolutions, then good luck with them. If, like me, you haven’t, grab the nearest calendar and count how many days there are on it.
Why am I asking you to count the days on a calendar? There’s a good reason.
Did you count 365 days? Yes? 366, if you’re looking at a 2020 calendar. Ditch that old calendar, and get yourself one for this year. Look at all those days on it.
Every one of those days is a day of new beginnings. Every day is a day to start something different. Every day is a day opportunities will come knocking. Every day is a day to set yourself a resolution (if you want to). Every day is a day you can make good use of. Every day is a day you can make somebody smile. Every day is a day you can do something good for somebody else. Don’t waste them.
What am I getting at?
Simply put, you can start a resolution on any day of the year. I’ve had more successes with resolutions I started on days other than New Year’s Day. But that makes a lot of sense when it’s 364 days against one day. And isn’t every new day the beginning of a new year in your life? Check out Erika’s post. I think she agrees with me.
There is something I enjoy doing every new year. I look back and thank those who shaped my life over the previous 12 months. And those include the people I never met, but who in some way influenced my life.
As a blogger, I’m talking about those who visited my blog, read and joined in with the discussions on the posts I wrote and photos I shared.
If you’re not a blogger, then the people you will have been in touch with on social media may have influenced your life in some way. Think about it. You don’t have to hear words from somebody for them to influence your life. And you don’t need to physically meet someone for them to have an influence on your life.
If it weren’t for all of you out there, the last 12 months would have been a little quiet and emptier here on my blog. And I don’t believe that’s something any blogger wants for their blog.
So, a big thank you for all your support, kindness, friendship, and for being a big part of my 2020. You listened to me; you made me cry. You astounded me; you made me think. You made me change my life or persuaded me to try out something new. You entertained me; you helped me through the low points and you encouraged me over the high points. You influenced me.
What was 2020 like for you? Think hard before you answer that question.
2020 may have seemed a horrible and strange year for many of us, but it will have given us opportunities and some nice bits too.
For me, one of the most significant opportunities was an invitation to become a guest columnist at the Carrot Ranch, a blog hosted by Charli Mills. I may already know some of the Carrot Ranch writers, but an invitation to write for another blog is an opportunity I am incredibly thankful to have come my way in 2020.
Another significant opportunity 2020 gave me was to sort out and donate stuff to my local charity shops. ‘Lockdown’ allowed me to declutter my home and pass on items I no longer needed. Those expired items not only went on to generate money for good causes but were brought back to life by their new owners. I like to think that the happiness those items once gave me has now passed on to the new owners.
2020 may be gone, but it shouldn’t be forgotten. Why? Elouise tells us why. Read her post here and read the comments on the post too.
Thank you 2020.
Thank you 2020 for the opportunities you presented to me. You may think you did a good job at hiding them from me, but they were there when I looked hard enough.
Now, I’m looking forward to the opportunities 2021 will bring.
What to do with New Year’s Resolutions
My answer – Turn them into opportunities. Opportunities to make new friends, new acquaintances, new experiences. Make people laugh, make people happy, teach people something new, tell somebody something that will make them smile. Don’t turn your resolutions into opportunities that become barriers or hurdles for you or anyone else or that make people unhappy. Make people laugh, make people smile.
Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go.
To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people just exist.
We are all in the gutter. But some of us are looking at the stars.
Which ones are you going to be in 2021?
Do you make New Year’s resolutions? Have you had any success or failures with them? What opportunities did 2020 give you? What answer would you give to the title of this blog post? Leave me a comment and join the discussion.